Women's Manifesto Launch
WRDA launched the newly updated Women’s Manifesto in the MAC on Tuesday 31st March, to a crowd of women’s sector delegates, trade unionists, contributing parties and interested individuals.
The project itself began last year when WRDA Programme Coordinator Isobel Loughran applied for Belfast City Council funding, which would go on to support a series of workshops held in women’s centres across the greater Belfast area, such as Greenway WC, Falls WC, Windsor WC and WOMEN’STEC. These workshops, facilitated by Isobel and WRDA Operations Manager Liz Curran, gave local women the chance to have their voices heard on the myriad of issues and challenges facing them today, and to directly shape the contents of the new manifesto. This publication is first and foremost a tool for (and by) women; it contains all the information they need to challenge local government and demand more on pertinent issues such as; women in peacebuilding, women and the economy, women in politics, reproductive health & justice, childcare, violence against women, the community women’s sector, equality standards and education & training.
The event kicked off with WRDA Director Anne McVicker welcoming the crowd and giving a brief background of the manifesto. Next to speak was Brigid Loughran, who updated the Manifesto. Brigid called on each attendee to take the manifesto away with them, reframe it for their area, present it to their local council, and demand that women’s voices be heard.
Women’s Sector Lobbyist Orlaith Hendron was up next, encouraging women to lobby for themselves and urging them to call on her for guidance and support. Orlaith drew attention to the NI Assembly Executive Review Committee’s appalling report on women in politics, to which she had made a response in an article online. To resounding agreement, Orlaith stated that the weak and watery language in this report “suggests” and “encourages” diversity and equal representation, instead of rightfully demanding it. “Diversity is a stronghold for a peaceful Northern Ireland,” Orlaith said, “and it needs to be mandated.”
Attending as an individual, Claire Bailey focused on the urgent need for reproductive justice for women in NI, another result of women’s experiences being ignored in wider politics. Speaking from her experience as a Marie Stopes volunteer, she knows first-hand the abuse women face when accessing free and legal healthcare, and from her experience in politics, that no existing political manifesto focuses on women to the extent that they need to. Following this, Trade Unionist Naomi Connor shed light on just how important women have been in the founding and work of trade unions, and how under-represented they are in the male-dominated higher positions. She pointed out that the issues outlined in the manifesto were not academic or abstract, but very real, very material and directly affecting women from all backgrounds. Naomi stressed that more than ever the Women’s Manifesto is needed to bring about a different discourse, and to help to build a society that serves women.
Next, Eleanor Jordan (Windsor Women’s Centre) spoke on childcare; how it is inextricably linked to women, how without free and accessible childcare women are not empowered to make choices, and how amazingly, after 9 years, OFMDFM still has not put any childcare strategy in place. After this, Liz Gordon (Belfast Feminist Network) re-stressed the need for reproductive justice, and how it encompasses not only access to abortion, but access to information, contraception and the overall social, political and economic power each person needs to make healthy decisions about their own bodies and sexuality. The last speaker, Caroline McCord (WINI), focused on women in peacebuilding, how their contribution has been largely overlooked and how the framework of the UN1325 toolkit has not been embraced by to the extent that the women’s sector had hoped.
Many challenges will have to be overcome in the fight for women’s full representation and equality in political life and decision making, but the manifesto should provide a strong tool for all of us in pushing forward women’s agenda. NVTV's Focal Point Community News was there to cover the event, have a watch here from 1:55 - 7:35. RTA's Jenny Bell also put together a video of the speeches here.The full manifesto can be found here.